Your lawn may be your pride and joy, but is there an environmentally friendly alternative? Join us in the weeds with Michael Regilio on Skeptical Sunday!
On This Week’s Skeptical Sunday:
- Lawns are a symbol of American culture, but they have significant environmental drawbacks — including water wastage, pesticide use, and habitat destruction.
- The origins of lawns can be traced back to British aristocracy, who sought to emulate Italian landscape paintings with vast, manicured lawns around their mansions.
- Lawns in the United States became more widespread after World War II, with suburban developments like Levittown contributing to their popularity.
- Noise pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases from lawn care equipment are on the rise in a landscaping industry that pulls in over $100 billion per year.
- Transitioning to alternatives like xeriscaping, native gardens, or even painting brown lawns green can reduce the environmental harm caused by traditional grass lawns.
- Connect with Jordan on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. If you have something you’d like us to tackle here on Skeptical Sunday, drop Jordan a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let him know!
- Connect with Michael Regilio at his website, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, and make sure to check out the Michael Regilio Plagues Well With Others podcast here or wherever you enjoy listening to fine podcasts!
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Want to hear a conversation about managing crises and spinning them to your advantage? Listen to episode 2: Rob Weinhold | The Art of Crisis Leadership here!
Resources from This Episode:
- Six Ways to Transform Your Lawn Into an Eco-Friendly Oasis | EcoWatch
- The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession by Virginia Jenkins | Amazon
- The Tyranny of the Lawn | American Heritage
- The American Obsession with Lawns | Scientific American Blog Network
- The Lingering Legacy of America’s First Cookie-Cutter Suburb | Atlas Obscura
- The Fascinating History of the Lawn | Laidback Gardener
- Fine, Lien, Foreclosure: What Can Happen If You Refuse to Mow Your Lawn | LawnStarter
- For Lack of Green Yard, Man, 66, Goes to Jail | Tampa Bay Times
- David Shoemaker v. City of Howell | United States Court of Appeals
- Dunedin, FL Foreclosure: Florida Man Could Lose His Home for Having Long Grass | Institute for Justice
- America’s Biggest Irrigated Crop Is Grass, Study Found | Business Insider
- Lawns Are a Soul-Crushing Timesuck and Most of Us Would Be Better off without Them | The Washington Post
- Water Research | US EPA
- How Stupid Is Our Obsession with Lawns? | Freakonomics
- Drought Water Restrictions: Why Grass Is So Bad for the West’s Water Crisis | CNN
- Runoff Reduction | The Lawn Institute
- Native Grasslands Are Good for Animals and the Climate. Lawns Are Not. | Vox
- The Invasive Kentucky Bluegrass | Envirobites
- A Biodiversity Scientist Explains the Problem with Our Neat Lawns | World Economic Forum
- The Food System We Choose Affects Biodiversity: Do We Want Monocultures? | The Guardian
- Take Steps to Limit Air Emissions When Using Garden Equipment | NH Dept. of Environmental Services
- A Greener Way to Cut the Grass Runs Afoul of a Powerful Lobby | The New York Times
- Leaf Blower’s Emissions Dirtier than High-Performance Pick-Up Truck’s | InsideLine
- Noise-Induced Hearing Loss | NIDCD
- Characteristics of Lawn and Garden Equipment Sound: A Community Pilot Study | Environmental and Toxicology Studies Journal
- Physiological Benefits of Viewing Nature: A Systematic Review of Indoor Experiments | International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
- Green Spaces Aren’t Just for Nature — They Boost Our Mental Health Too | New Scientist
- Lawn Maintenance and Climate Change | PSCI
- Lawn and Garden | US EPA
- Lawn Pesticide Fact Sheets | Beyond Pesticides
- Roundup Lawsuit Update September 2023 | Forbes Advisor
- Landscaping Industry Statistics | InsuranceBee
- Four Ways to Remove Lawn Grass | Lawnstarter
- Xeriscaping | National Geographic
- Do Your Neighbors Paint Their Lawns Green? Increasingly, Yes | WSJ
901: Lawns | Skeptical Sunday
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to Skeptical Sunday. I'm your host, Jordan Harbinger. And today, I'm here with Skeptical Sunday co-host Michael Regilio. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. Our mission is to help you become a better informed, more critical thinker. And during the week, we have long-form conversations with a variety of amazing folks, from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers, and performers.
[00:00:32] On Sundays, though, we do Skeptical Sunday, where a rotating guest co-host and I break down a topic that you may have never thought about and debunk common misconceptions. Topics such as eCommerce scams, diet supplements, banned foods, chemtrails, hypnosis, Internet porn, and more. And if you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show — and you will after that Internet porn episode, I'm sure — I suggest our episode starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes on persuasion, negotiation, psychology, disinformation, cyber warfare, crime, cults, and more. And they'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started
[00:01:11] Today, a beautiful green lawn is a symbol of American wholesomeness. Put a white picket fence around it and you're living the proverbial American dream. But inside the fence, we waste water, we spread dangerous pesticides, we pollute ecosystems. Is maintaining a lush green lawn worth the environmental harm? At what cost do we pride these landscaped areas around our homes? Comedian Michael Regilio joins me to discuss why it isn't easy being green.
[00:01:38] Michael Regilio: Jordan, you're a homeowner. Do you have a lawn?
[00:01:41] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, where else am I supposed to put all my political signs?
[00:01:44] Michael Regilio: Oh yeah, of course, I forgot, your coveted "Go with Perot" sign. What would you say if I told you your lawn was doing far more harm than voting for a third party ever could?
[00:01:55] Jordan Harbinger: I'd say my lawn is an investment in not just my home, but my community at large. Plus, it's a tradition in my family. My dad cared for the family lawn and got sunburned every weekend just like his dad did.
[00:02:06] Michael Regilio: That may be true if you're referring to the micro-community in your hometown, but if one sees society as their community, a well-maintained lawn sends a very different message. Maintaining grass lawns increases greenhouse gases, pollutes ecosystem, wastes water, and diminishes biodiversity. In addition, the tradition of lawns doesn't trace its roots back to our dads and grandfathers, but to the British aristocracy and elitism.
[00:02:33] Jordan Harbinger: Ooh, that's a buzzword. I'm surprised you didn't even throw in lawns are racist for good measure.
[00:02:38] Michael Regilio: Ha, we're getting to that.
[00:02:40] Jordan Harbinger: Of course.
[00:02:40] Michael Regilio: But first, we need to discuss the origins of the modern lawn.
[00:02:44] Jordan Harbinger: Are the origins not just the land where we build our houses?
[00:02:48] Michael Regilio: The American dream includes a house with a lawn, but the lawns we love actually come from Italian dreams.
[00:02:55] Jordan Harbinger: So lawns come from Italy? Are you saying grass is Italian?
[00:02:59] Michael Regilio: No. Lawns come from Italian landscape paintings. The paintings included vast fields of trimmed grasses and tight hedgerows. The British aristocracy adored these paintings, and they loved them so much, they used their riches to recreate them around their mansions and castles. But the locations in the beloved paintings were fictional, made-up fantasies by Italian artists. These lawns didn't exist in Italy or anywhere. Italian artists just made them up.
[00:03:27] Jordan Harbinger: So the British aristocracy was trying to live inside Italian paintings that were just not even based on real Italian landscapes at all.
[00:03:36] Michael Regilio: Yeah, and they were trying to live inside of Italian paintings and not the ones full of naked people and food like I would have chosen. In Britain at the time, affluent estates used their land to grow food and raise animals, but the lawn was garish in a whole new way. Having giant tracts of land used simply for aesthetic purposes became a potent statement of wealth and power. It was a way of saying, "Look how rich I am. I don't need to use my land for anything other than to be looked at."
[00:04:04] Jordan Harbinger: And I'm guessing since these lawns now needed teams of peasants to maintain them — and I love saying that word, peasants — they were a good way of reinforcing the classist system of the time.
[00:04:14] Michael Regilio: Great point. You're cut above the rest, Harbinger. Can we go back and edit my opening to include lawns are classist?
[00:04:22] Jordan Harbinger: I think you made your point here. I'm still waiting for lawns are racist, by the way.
[00:04:26] Michael Regilio: Yeah, we're getting there. Okay, so across the pond, wealthy Americans saw their British counterparts and understood the point of lawns, and they sought to emulate them. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had lawns at their estates.
[00:04:40] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it wasn't exactly peasants tasked with maintaining those particular lawns, eh?
[00:04:45] Michael Regilio: No, sadly that was the enslaved people that they thought they owned.
[00:04:50] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, so lawns don't exactly have the romantic roots that many of us would have imagined.
[00:04:55] Michael Regilio: Mm-hmm. At the time of Washington and Jefferson, lawns were still just for the very wealthy. The modern concept of the American lawn didn't really explode until after World War II with the passage of the GI Bill. American men returning from the war were given a house with a lawn in these new-fangled planned communities. Communities like Levittown on Long Island. It was a sprawling suburban development built on what had been potato fields. These cookie-cutter communities sprang up all over the country and the American suburbs, and the popularity of lawns flourished.
[00:05:28] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I've seen photos from that era, very sort of Truman Show, thousands of identical homes all in neat little rows and everything looks the same.
[00:05:36] Michael Regilio: Yeah, identical indeed. And it wasn't just the houses and lawns that looked the same. The GI Bill excluded most black soldiers returning from the war, and both the suburbs and lawns became a symbol of white America. The lawn stood in stark contrast to the homes in urban communities. Suburbs had lawns. Cities didn't.
[00:05:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, so it's really starting to sound like lawns might be racist, man. All right, it's a little depressing, Regilio. I'm getting ready to remove all of my pink flamingos from my racist lawn.
[00:06:09] Michael Regilio: Not a bad idea. Look, the fact of the matter is, lawns weren't optional anymore. Take Levittown. They had laws about the upkeep of lawns. Towns everywhere passed laws that your grass had to be kept to a certain length and well maintained, or you were subject to tickets and fines.
[00:06:25] Jordan Harbinger: So ticketed for not mowing, whatever, cutting your lawn?
[00:06:28] Michael Regilio: Yeah, these were called Covenant Laws. They state that weekly mowing is required or a community crew would mow your lawn for you and bill you for it. Or in extreme situations, you could go to jail.
[00:06:40] Jordan Harbinger: Jail? That seems a little ridiculous. I guess that's what they call lawn enforcement. Anyone? I'll see myself out.
[00:06:48] Michael Regilio: Exactly. And these laws still exist. A guy in Florida named Joe Prudente went to jail for lawn violations.
[00:06:55] Jordan Harbinger: So ridiculous. Imagine being, "What are you in for?" "Ah, I forgot to mow my lawn last week."
[00:07:00] Michael Regilio: Yeah. And it's not just Florida. One guy took his unmowed lawn all the way to the Michigan State Supreme Court and lost.
[00:07:06] Jordan Harbinger: It's so embarrassing.
[00:07:08] Michael Regilio: It's crazy. Another case in 2018 involved a man who went out of town. His landscaper unexpectedly died and so did his lawn. That cost him foreclosure on his property. People actually lose their homes and are fined big bucks for unmowed lawns.
[00:07:26] Jordan Harbinger: I've heard of people going to jail for grass before, but this is ridiculous. That's so ridiculous. Imagine going to jail because of your lawn. That's so dumb.
[00:07:36] Michael Regilio: Yeah. You could say that they fought the lawn and the lawn won.
[00:07:39] Jordan Harbinger: All right, we may have hit our pun limit, Regilio. I think so, at this point.
[00:07:44] Michael Regilio: Never. And it's not just the law that compels people to mow their lawns. The neighborhood at large pressures homeowners to keep a well-trimmed lawn.
[00:07:53] Jordan Harbinger: I see the appeal though. There is something innately American about the — it sounds corny, but the individual expression of a homeowner through their lawns. People take great pride in this stuff.
[00:08:04] Michael Regilio: Yeah, as American as, oh, I don't know, say, communism?
[00:08:09] Jordan Harbinger: What? How is that? How is it communism?
[00:08:12] Michael Regilio: Think about it. Okay, that's what these covenant laws are saying. It's not your lawn. It's the community's lawn. It's not an expression of your individuality. It's an expression of the collective man. You may think your lawn is green, but if you live in a community with covenant laws, trust me, it's red.
[00:08:31] Jordan Harbinger: Calm down, man. The only thing red is your face. It's just lawns.
[00:08:35] Michael Regilio: Interestingly enough, we're at a crossroads in our love affair with lawns. So much so that there's a whole new kind of lawn enforcement officer, and these officers aren't there to make sure your lawns look nice, especially here in California. There are ordinances that say you can't water your lawn during droughts. We're waking up to all the bad stuff that comes with lawns.
[00:08:56] Jordan Harbinger: All right, so water wasting, but what other bad stuff exactly?
[00:08:59] Michael Regilio: Okay, let's just start with some stats. Lawns are the largest crop in America. Lawns occupy 40 million acres of land in the United States, which is roughly three times the area of America's second-largest crop, corn.
[00:09:15] Jordan Harbinger: I never really thought of lawns as crops, but I guess it makes sense. We're deliberately growing it, right? So anyone who's driven through a corn belt knows we grow a lot of corn, like a crap ton lot of corn.
[00:09:27] Michael Regilio: But if you're driving across country, you're going to pass a lot more lawns than you're going to pass corn. Lawns in America equal an area roughly the size of Iowa.
[00:09:36] Jordan Harbinger: Speaking of corn, I have driven through Iowa, and it is a huge state. That's just a ton of lawn.
[00:09:42] Michael Regilio: Yeah, and when there's that much crop as there is with lawns, any issue becomes exponentially larger and lawns have many issues. Let's start with what you already mentioned — water usage. According to the EPA, Americans use so much water on their lawns, they could fill five million Olympic swimming pools a year.
[00:10:02] Jordan Harbinger: That sounds like a lot, but I don't really do that when I'm trying to convert ounces to Olympic swimming pools. Can you clarify that a little bit?
[00:10:09] Michael Regilio: Okay, fine. For people that can't do a simple ounce of water to Olympic swimming pool conversion, let me put it this way, okay? And this stat is so stunning. When I first came across the actual number of gallons Americans use on their lawns, I didn't believe it. I had to check and cross-check but I found this statistic from NASA scientist Cristina Milesi. Americans use a whopping 20 trillion gallons of water a year on our lawns — 20 trillion!
[00:10:41] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my god.
[00:10:41] Michael Regilio: For context, we use 30 trillion gallons of water on all other crops.
[00:10:47] Jordan Harbinger: I cannot wrap my head around that. That is insane. That is so ridiculous.
[00:10:53] Michael Regilio: Yeah, you can't wrap your head around it because no one can. Okay, here's a figure we can wrap our heads around. In coastal California, every single square foot of lawn requires 28 gallons of water a year. Further inland, where the climate is even more arid, that number goes up to 37 gallons a year. Look, listeners should go out to their yard and dump 37 gallons of water on one spot. Then imagine doing that for every square foot of their lawn every year.
[00:11:20] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, please don't go outside and do that. I think we get the point. That is so crazy wasteful. I had no idea.
[00:11:27] Michael Regilio: Yeah, again, and this is for something that serves no real purpose other than to be pretty. Lawns are directly competing with our food for water. Lawns might feel nice between your toes, but I'm not sure this justifies using all that water.
[00:11:43] Jordan Harbinger: 20 trillion gallons is so much water. All that just for, what, essentially amounts to a visually pleasing neighborhood.
[00:11:49] Michael Regilio: Yeah, we are obsessed. And in the Southwest where I live, homeowners use more water on their lawns than all other water use combined.
[00:11:56] Jordan Harbinger: That's particularly baffling right now as the entire country has been subject to this massive heat wave of summer 2023. You can go outside in Arizona. And take one of those meat thermometers, and it'll say it's 115 degrees outside, and you're out there watering this freaking tropical crap you planted in your front yard so that your lawn's green. It's so stupid.
[00:12:16] Michael Regilio: Yeah, I know, it's crazy. I heard a story that the air is 115 degrees, but like, the sidewalk is like 165 degrees. People are going into the emergency rooms. with burns, third-degree burns from touching the sidewalk.
[00:12:30] Jordan Harbinger: Oh god. So if your kids want to play outside, you have to water down the concrete at the front of your house so that they don't scald themselves on the ground.
[00:12:37] Michael Regilio: No. If your kids want to play outside, you can't let them. Anyone letting their kids play outside in Phoenix these days probably risks having their kids taken away. It's crazy out there, man. Okay. So in an effort to add some balance to this discussion, I looked up what arguments there are to support lawns and I found the Lawn Institute.
[00:12:56] Jordan Harbinger: That is patently ridiculous. Of course, that exists. Big lawn, y'all.
[00:13:02] Michael Regilio: Yeah, I like that. Yeah, the Lawn Institute argues that lawns reduce erosion by allowing rainwater to absorb back into the ground.
[00:13:10] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, I suppose that makes some sense.
[00:13:13] Michael Regilio: Uh, it does, but here's the thing. Any plants reduce erosion. You don't need these foreign, non-indigenous plants like the ones we call lawns.
[00:13:21] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, non-indigenous. So first, you made over-the-top statements that lawns are communist or classist or whatever. Now, they're illegal immigrants?
[00:13:29] Michael Regilio: I stand by my hyperbole.
[00:13:31] Jordan Harbinger: So you're saying grass isn't even American?
[00:13:34] Michael Regilio: That's right, the dirty little secret of the grass industry is that Kentucky bluegrass ain't from Kentucky, it's northern European, where not surprisingly, it was much cooler and rainier than most of the southwest. Almost all the grasses we use for lawns are not indigenous. Because of that, they require a lot of artificial care to emulate the environments they naturally thrive in. Plus, they destroy the natural habitat for native plants and push them out. Lawns are non-indigenous monocultures.
[00:14:04] Jordan Harbinger: So lawns are basically a bunch of European grasses taking over our country and pushing out the native plants. It's actually the most American thing I've heard about lawns to date here. That's a pretty American thing to do, after all.
[00:14:18] Michael Regilio: Yeah, that's hilarious. Look, that gets to the next big negative. When I just mentioned it, the lack of biodiversity we get with monocultures like lawns and the harm they do to the natural world.
[00:14:28] Jordan Harbinger: I did learn from a Bud Light commercial that diversity makes for a healthy society and whatnot, but what is biodiversity?
[00:14:35] Michael Regilio: Oh, I can't help myself. I have to say this, that I found that whole Bud Light controversy to be absolutely hilarious. So you could say that it was a real brew, haha?
[00:14:44] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man, you're fired.
[00:14:46] Michael Regilio: Hahahaha! Look, what is biodiversity? Biodiversity simply refers to the variety of native plants that make up the ecology of any given area. Biodiversity gives Mother Nature important biological controls. Without biodiversity, ecosystems fall apart. Think of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. That was an ecological disaster caused by the monoculture of farming that helped contribute to the full collapse of the ecosystem. The blame is partly due to the farming industry.
[00:15:16] Jordan Harbinger: If you're going to do stupid puns, I'm going to do stupid puns. They really put the dust in industry. Am I right?
[00:15:21] Michael Regilio: Okay, now I agree. We do need a moratorium on puns.
[00:15:24] Jordan Harbinger: It's only fine when you do it. Got it. Okay.
[00:15:27] Michael Regilio: Look, it's super necessary to landscape with native plants, period. Without a rich panoply of native plants, the all-important pollinators like bees die off. And when the pollinators die off, lots of stuff dies off.
[00:15:39] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that sounds apocalyptic. The whole all the bees are dead thing is kind of terrifying.
[00:15:44] Michael Regilio: Yeah, look, we've all heard about the problems farmers are having because of the lack of bees and other pollinators. This is because we have replaced so much of their diverse native habitats with monocultures. Monocultures are very unenvironmental. Ironically, what we call weeds are far better for the environment than grass.
[00:16:04] Jordan Harbinger: And yet there's an entire aisle in Home Depot dedicated to weed killers?
[00:16:08] Michael Regilio: And the toxins in those weed killers are problematic in ways we could do an entire episode on.
[00:16:13] Jordan Harbinger: I've heard a lot about the problems with bees dying off, and are lawns actually to blame for this?
[00:16:19] Michael Regilio: Yes, and no, and yes again. Monocultures are to blame, and lawns are the biggest monoculture on the block. Climate change is also a big contributor to the problem with bees, and lawns are a big part of the problem with climate change.
[00:16:36] Jordan Harbinger: You know what's not racist? Probably, maybe, the fine products and services that support this show. We'll be right back.
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[00:18:24] Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers keeps the lights on around here All the links, deals, discount codes, and ways to support the show are all in one place at jordanharbinger.com/deals. You can also search for the sponsors using the AI chatbot on the website as well. Please consider supporting those who support the show.
[00:18:42] Now, back to Skeptical Sunday.
[00:18:45] So, hold on. Don't lawns, like every other plant that exists, trap CO2 to offset carbon footprints? Companies plant trees. Lawns got to do some good in that respect as well, right?
[00:18:56] Michael Regilio: True, they do. They do capture CO2. But when compared to the CO2 the lawn industry puts out, it's a big net negative. Let's start with simple lawn mowers, which are mostly gas-powered. Unlike cars, whose emissions are regulated, few regulations exist for lawn mowers. According to the EPA, running a new gas lawn mower for one hour produces 11 times more emissions than driving the average new car for an hour.
[00:19:22] Jordan Harbinger: That's disgusting, actually.
[00:19:23] Michael Regilio: Yeah, guess what? That's actually an improvement. The New York Times reported that a 2006 lawn mower engine contributed 93 times more smog-forming emissions than cars from the same year. That was only 17 years ago. So we have cut the lawn mower emissions down.
[00:19:40] Jordan Harbinger: I wonder what a 1992 lawn mower did, because I inhaled a ton of that stuff, man. Every weekend I was inhaling three hours worth of that disgusting fumes. Yikes. Whenever someone is mowing their lawn now, there's always that strong smell of gasoline in the air. For me, it's always been a little bit gross nostalgia. It definitely seems unhealthy, but I never really connected the dots to the environmental impact because I thought it's a leaf blower, it's a small engine, there's no way, even though it smells stronger, there's no way it's the same as my neighbor's Ford F-150, or whatever.
[00:20:10] Michael Regilio: Yeah, and you just actually, you just hit the next point, which is, it's not just lawn mowers. The other big menace of the lawn industry is leaf blowers. Running a leaf blower for 10 minutes produces as much exhaust as driving a large pickup truck for 235 miles.
[00:20:25] Jordan Harbinger: So that's astonishing and really disgusting, but also not terribly surprising. There's no way they put a catalytic converter on the back of that tiny little backpack that the guy has.
[00:20:36] Michael Regilio: Yeah, and look, as long as we're on leaf blowers, they create a very different, but also harmful kind of pollution.
[00:20:43] Jordan Harbinger: They blow all kinds of dirt that was frankly just fine laying on the ground all up into the air for anybody walking outside to breathe, but I'm also guessing you're going to say noise pollution.
[00:20:52] Michael Regilio: Damn straight I am. I hate leaf blowers.
[00:20:56] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, they are my nemesis. I'll get into that in a minute.
[00:20:59] Michael Regilio: The World Health Organization recommends people not expose themselves to noises above 70 decibels because over time that level of prolonged noise can cause hearing loss, high blood pressure, and even cardiovascular disease. Erica Walker, a Harvard PhD, studies the effects of leaf blowers and found not only do they exceed safe decibel levels, they clock in between 80 and 90 decibels. That's as loud as a motorcycle and almost as loud as a rock concert.
[00:21:27] Jordan Harbinger: If you think that's bad, don't have kids because I've got that sound app on my Apple Watch, and it routinely tells me when I'm playing with my kids that I'm in a loud environment and I need to use hearing protection because it clocks in at 80 or 90 decibels. And that's just one kid screaming in my lap. Try two or more for an hour. Obviously, Erica Walker, PhD, doesn't have any kids. She wouldn't be so worried about leaf blowers. But yeah, they are really loud and annoying. And as a podcaster, like I said, they are my nemesis. They are my enemy during the workday. I've actually, on multiple occasions, gone outside and told landscapers nearby to knock it off while I'm recording. Sometimes they're in my yard and other times they're in my neighbor's yard and I'm like, don't do it. I don't care if they get mad at you. I'm trying to do something important and you are literally blowing leaves from my neighbor's yard into my yard or my yard into my neighbor's yard. You're just making it someone else's problem.
[00:22:14] Michael Regilio: Yeah, I know. I feel bad for him.
[00:22:16] Jordan Harbinger: I do too.
[00:22:16] Michael Regilio: Nobody likes leaf blowers.
[00:22:18] Jordan Harbinger: It's like shooting the messenger.
[00:22:19] Michael Regilio: I know. Yeah. And they're not enjoying with that loud thing strapped to their back, but it is interesting that you should say that they're annoying because leaf blowers have another distinctive quality that goes hand in hand with their being loud. Walker shows in her research that the particular low frequencies produced by leaf blowers have negative effects on human health. The sound emitted by leaf blowers is particularly unsettling to humans.
[00:22:43] Jordan Harbinger: Who hasn't gotten irritable when the leaf blower guy just keeps blowing and blowing? But I thought it was just because I'm a cranky old fart in training and not because of science.
[00:22:52] Michael Regilio: Yeah, without our pretty lawns, we'd actually be a lot calmer. And as long as I'm on the topic, psychologists have found that complex scenes of nature like meadows and forests have a calming effect on the human psyche as well.
[00:23:04] Jordan Harbinger: So you may think you like looking out at your nice lawn, but in reality, you'd be calmer looking out at a pleasant meadow, like the one that you mowed down to build your house instead.
[00:23:15] Michael Regilio: Exactly. So, look, noise and aesthetic issues aside, let's get into the next issue. The fossil fuels being spent on lawn care doesn't end at lawn mowers and leaf blowers. In the US, it's estimated that we spill nearly 17 million gallons of gasoline while people are filling their lawn care equipment. For context, that's 50 percent more than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez, and the entire world freaked out over that spill. I never even heard of this statistic until I started researching this episode.
[00:23:45] Jordan Harbinger: That's hard to believe 17 million gallons of gasoline spilled accidentally. It sounds impossible, but I guess filling lawn mowers is a spill-prone task. I do remember my dad filling the lawn mower using a funnel. It seems like that would do the trick. How is that not so commonplace? How are we still spilling 17 million gallons of fuel? That's hard to believe.
[00:24:07] Michael Regilio: Yeah, it's crazy, man. And look, that gas goes into the ground and then seeps into the groundwater and washes into waterways right along with all the other dangerous chemicals used to treat our lawns, like fertilizers and pesticides.
[00:24:21] Jordan Harbinger: Now, this is not surprising. Those fertilizers and pesticides have always creeped me out. Even when I was a kid. I didn't want to get near him. I don't go down that aisle in Home Depot. It smells weird. It smells unhealthy. It smells yellow. I associate it with just this really strong, I probably have synesthesia, but I walk in that aisle and I'm just like, this is not good for me. My throat is on fire. There's no chance that this is something that should be touching my skin or that I should be drinking.
[00:24:44] Michael Regilio: Yeah, it's one of those weird things where you get a taste in your mouth—
[00:24:47] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:24:47] Michael Regilio: —when you're around it. They're bad. The nitrogen used in fertilizers is actually a tremendous source of carbon emissions. But before I get into just how bad the chemicals we put onto our lawns are, I want to point something out that I came across when studying this. Brown grass isn't dead grass. Grass hibernates, and unlike bears, grass hibernates for the summer. It turns brown during the summer to conserve its resources and waits for rainier times. Keeping grass green all year round is completely unnatural. Lawns are like giant green Frankensteins that surround our homes. They are abominations to nature.
[00:25:27] Jordan Harbinger: So, lawns definitely bring out the hyperbole.
[00:25:31] Michael Regilio: You can say that. Look, I stand by my alarmism. As we just said, summer of '23 is having an effect on me. Once I read that the ocean water off Florida was over 100 degrees, I freaked out, man. And all the chemicals we pump into our world for lawns is part of the problem.
[00:25:48] Jordan Harbinger: I can't believe the ocean is 100 degrees. That's terrifying. Our hot tub, that we probably use a crap load of solar energy to keep heated, is 100 degrees. And it's hard to get in there, right? You dip your toe in, you're like, "Oh, it's hot. I'm a little uncomfortable." You got to go in slowly. If the ocean is that warm, that is, alarming isn't quite the word. It's hard to overstate how alarming that really is.
[00:26:11] Michael Regilio: Yeah, I know. I've had a friend pass out from sitting in a 100-degree hot tub for too long. That's crazy that you could pass out from the heat of the ocean. And look, these fertilizers and pesticides, they're no better for the planet. According to the EPA, Americans douse their lawns with 90 million pounds of fertilizer and 78 million pounds of pesticides every year.
[00:26:34] Jordan Harbinger: 78 million pounds here and 90 million pounds there. And pretty soon, we're talking about some big numbers.
[00:26:41] Michael Regilio: It's a lot of swimming pools, man. Many of these chemicals are known to have health risks to us humans and to every other living thing on the planet. Just like the spilled gas, these chemicals seep into the drinking water and into our homes and contaminate natural habitats.
[00:26:56] Jordan Harbinger: I remember a few years ago, there was this big thing where fertilizer would run off and it would cause these humongous algae blooms and things like that. It just ruins the romanticism of walking barefoot in the grass. You'd be better walking in the grass in a frickin hazmat suit.
[00:27:13] Michael Regilio: And, you know, that might be your hyperbole, but that's actually accurate. Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked to cancer, 13 to birth defects, 21 to reproductive disorders, and 15 to brain damage.
[00:27:28] Jordan Harbinger: The most notorious of these is, what, Roundup? I've read a bit about that.
[00:27:31] Michael Regilio: Yeah.
[00:27:31] Jordan Harbinger: You can't really avoid hearing about that one.
[00:27:33] Michael Regilio: Yeah, Roundup was developed by the now-defunct company Monsanto. Monsanto has settled over 100, 000 Roundup lawsuits. 100, 000.
[00:27:42] Jordan Harbinger: Those are some busy lawyers. Oh my god.
[00:27:44] Michael Regilio: Yeah, no kidding, busy, rich lawyers. And paying out about 11 billion dollars because their product has been linked to cancer. The most common of which is non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Just this week, this is totally true, as I was studying this episode, I was scrolling through Instagram and I came across an ad on Instagram from a law firm looking for people with cancer who think they may have been exposed to Roundup.
[00:28:04] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my god, that's awful. I'm starting to see why you dislike lawns so much, man.
[00:28:08] Michael Regilio: Yeah. And you know what? Here's the crazy thing. It's not just me. You know who else hates lawns? Lawns hate lawns. By keeping grass short, we keep it from growing flowers and seeds. We're keeping grass in perpetual sexual immaturity.
[00:28:22] Jordan Harbinger: Ooh, sounds like we're out there grooming lawns, eh?
[00:28:27] Michael Regilio: All right. I'm letting you go with that one, man. That was a good one.
[00:28:30] Jordan Harbinger: It's a little child trafficking joke. No big deal. Hilarious every time, yeah. No, anyway, continue.
[00:28:37] Michael Regilio: Cut grass has to dedicate all its energy and resources to constantly healing itself and sealing off wounds. The smell of freshly cut grass is a chemical alarm bell that plants release when they're under attack. Our idea of a healthy green lawn is a farce. Ask the chemically doused, decapitated grass how it feels. Go ahead, ask it.
[00:28:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, okay, that's totally sane. Have you been talking to lawns?
[00:29:01] Michael Regilio: No, but I have been listening to them, as long as there's no leaf blowers around.
[00:29:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, lawns are bad, I get it, which begs the question, why are they so popular? Who cares now? Can't we just throw some rocks over this stuff and be done with it?
[00:29:12] Michael Regilio: We're going to get into that, but if you want to know why they're so popular, it's because the lawn care and landscape industry rakes in 100 billion dollars every year.
[00:29:20] Jordan Harbinger: That was a sly pun. I'm going to let that one slide. That is a huge figure. I would not have guessed that lawns are a $100-billion-a-year industry.
[00:29:30] Michael Regilio: And all that green pays for people to look past the problems with all that green.
[00:29:35] Jordan Harbinger: Pun moratorium officially reinstated, man.
[00:29:38] Michael Regilio: Fine. But the fact is, these are powerful forces that continue to push the narrative that lush green lawns are good. The New York Times compares the pushback against regulations in the lawn industry to the pushback auto manufacturers engaged in when the EPA first tried to pass emission standards. The lawn industry has deep pockets, and it's tough to go up against this industry. An industry that I believe you just dubbed something that I thought was very funny, big lawn.
[00:30:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I wouldn't count on that one catching on, but what can people do if they want to get off the lawn?
[00:30:11] Michael Regilio: Many things, and this is exciting stuff, but first, you have to literally kill your lawn.
[00:30:16] Jordan Harbinger: No problem, I'll dump some bleach on it. Douse it in lawn mower gasoline. There's 17 million extra gallons of that somewhere. I'll be right back.
[00:30:23] Michael Regilio: Hold the phone. Wait, that wouldn't be very eco-friendly now, would it, Jordan? No, you just have to smother it and not with love and nagging and emotional enmeshment like my mother tried to do to me.
[00:30:35] Jordan Harbinger: Too much information, man. What do you mean smother it? Do you mean just stop watering it?
[00:30:39] Michael Regilio: There's a bunch of ways to do it, but the most eco-friendly way is to cover your lawn with cardboard and let the lack of sunlight and resources slowly kill the grass.
[00:30:46] Jordan Harbinger: That's going to look great. Yeah, cut up some Amazon boxes.
[00:30:50] Michael Regilio: Yeah. There are other ways of doing it. You can do sod cutters, but those things are gas-powered. You can put plastic wrap over your lawn, but that stuff doesn't biodegrade. So I say if you're going to murder your lawn, and I do recommend it, cardboard is the way to go.
[00:31:03] Jordan Harbinger: That's still a lot of cardboard.
[00:31:05] Michael Regilio: Yeah, I know. The average American would have to hang on to all the Amazon boxes that come to their house for a day, maybe two.
[00:31:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, guilty. We have a crap load of those.
[00:31:13] Michael Regilio: Either way, once your lawn is gone, to the big yard in the sky, you can do a lot of creative and beautiful things with the space, like xeriscaping.
[00:31:22] Jordan Harbinger: I have not heard of that. What is xeriscaping?
[00:31:25] Michael Regilio: Xeriscaping is landscaping that uses only native and drought-resistant plants. The rough idea behind xeriscaping is that it uses none of the water we get from our garden hoses but lets rain and rain capture take all of the water needs.
[00:31:38] Jordan Harbinger: So I'm guessing in the southwest that means lots of cacti and some more, I don't know, rocks and little flat stones that you walk on.
[00:31:45] Michael Regilio: Yeah, it could, but it's not just cacti. In the southwest, there's a lot of perennial flowers and other native plants from sagebrushes to desert willows, plus, as you said, rocks. Rocks are good. Rocks, nothing beats rocks. I spent a lot of time in Joshua Tree and most people in that community have really gorgeous rock gardens. Trust me. Rock's rock, but that's just for the Southwest. Homes in other parts of the country have tons of lush green native options.
[00:32:10] Jordan Harbinger: As much as I think it's a good idea murdering your lawn and then xeriscaping, it actually sounds expensive.
[00:32:17] Michael Regilio: But since water use is such a growing problem, many cities have programs to either help convert your lawn to xeriscaped yard or, in some cases, they just pay for it outright.
[00:32:25] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:32:26] Michael Regilio: Even if your city doesn't help cover the cost, the long-term savings of water, fertilizing, and paying the neighbor's son to spill gas on and mow your yard, it makes it worth it in the end.
[00:32:38] Jordan Harbinger: Xeriscaping does sound pretty good. A lot of my neighbors around here they either let the wild native-ish plants grow, and it looks like a freaking jungle, which is kind of cool actually, and there's a bunch of birds and animals in there. Or they just dump those kind of white rocks on there. This is my lawn. Suck it. And I'm fine with it. It looks fine. It's hot as hell outside. What are my options if I'm going to slay my lawn?
[00:33:02] Michael Regilio: Yeah, actually, what a lot of people are doing in addition to the stuff you just mentioned is that they're letting their lawns go back to what they were originally and they're converting them into both front and back gardens. By using rain capture technology, we minimize water use. This cuts down not only on grocery bills but makes less big agriculture necessary.
[00:33:20] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, right on. So, plus, veggies grown in the home garden always taste amazing.
[00:33:24] Michael Regilio: Way better than the plate of fertilizer and pesticide-treated grass, trust me, my high school bully once made me eat a handful of grass and it was not good.
[00:33:35] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, this is the true origin of your hatred for lawns, Regilio.
[00:33:41] Michael Regilio: Might well be. Look, there's even a new trend for people who can't get off the lawn, but don't want to contribute to all the problems lawns bring, painted grass.
[00:33:50] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:33:51] Michael Regilio: Yeah, no, there are now companies that will come to your home and use environmentally safe green paint to paint your brown grass green.
[00:33:59] Jordan Harbinger: I've seen this happening in China, actually. It's just spray-painting trees and grass green. So the history of lawns started with paintings of lawns and is now ending with painted lawns. This is poetic, man. I'm not going to lie.
[00:34:13] Michael Regilio: That's actually when you put it that way, it is.
[00:34:15] Jordan Harbinger: Water issues aside, though, I don't want my kids running barefoot in all those chemicals. I think I'm just going to become an inverse grumpy old man and be like, "Hey lawn, get off my kids."
[00:34:27] Michael Regilio: That's a solid joke. No puns necessary.
[00:34:29] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Maybe we'll call this episode, The Lawn Goodbye.
[00:34:33] Michael Regilio: Eh, and you just couldn't help yourself.
[00:34:36] Jordan Harbinger: It was right there for the taking, man. Thank you very much, Michael.
[00:34:38] Michael Regilio: Thank you for having me.
[00:34:40] Jordan Harbinger: And thank you for listening. Topic suggestions for future episodes of Skeptical Sunday to email@example.com. Show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Transcripts are in the show notes. Advertisers, deals, and ways to support the show are all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram. And you can find Michael Regilio at @MichaelRegilio on Instagram, Michael Regilio Comedy, and we'll link to that in the show notes because as always, nobody can spell Regilio.
[00:35:09] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Our advice and opinions are our own, and I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. Do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. Share the show with those you love. And if you found the episode useful, please share it with somebody else who could use a good dose of the skepticism that we doled out today. Maybe somebody is obsessed with their lawn or needs a new lawn and they're deciding what to do with it. They could find out just how bad grass really is. In the meantime, I hope you apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you learn, and we'll see you next time.
[00:35:49] You're about to hear a preview of The Jordan Harbinger Show, with a crisis PR expert that helps people deal with scandals that seem to always happen to the rich and powerful.
[00:35:58] Rob Weinhold: I don't know one person in this world that's never needed help, professionally, personally, or both. Think about some of the issues that corporations deal with data breach, bad press, social media, attack investigations, litigation, sex scandals, rumors, sudden death, terrorism, riots, all those things really do impact businesses. And I see leader after leader, after leader, hold a press conference and don't come anywhere close to answering the questions that many people have and often rely on the no-comment approach. But the bottom line is there's a heavy, heavy price to pay for sweeping things under the carpet.
[00:36:32] Many of them are just not prepared. They don't have organizational muscle memory, which I speak of very, very frequently. We always say that crises cost organizations, time, money, customers, and ultimately their career. And candidly, in the worst case of scenario's lives, the core motivators generally come down to power and control, money, sex, and revenge. We build, strengthen, and defend reputations each and every day, and our goal here is to identify the points of exposure for an organization so that we can put in the strategies and tactics to reduce the points of exposure, and save time, money, consumer confidence, and the careers of the people who sit at the highest posts.
[00:37:15] What happened? What caused it? What are the short and long-term effects? What's being done about it? And what needs to be done in the future? I always say that success is systems-driven, not hero-driven.
[00:37:26] Jordan Harbinger: To learn how to problem solve during real-life crisis scenarios, check out episode 2 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
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